Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Governor Patrick: Leading from Beyond

It is not unusual to find in our Governor faint echoes of President Obama's defining traits.  This week brings yet another example.  Whereas in foreign affairs the President is contentedly "leading from behind," in the Commonwealth's ongoing budget debate Governor Patrick is "leading from beyond."  Beyond the Commonwealth's borders, that is.  And not really leading at all.

All the trappings, none of the leadership (AP Photo)
As Daisy noted yesterday, it seems clear the Commonwealth is about to begin fiscal 2012 without a budget plan in place.  According to the State House News, Massachusetts is one of ten states without a 2012 spending plan in place.  Why?  Well, it's hard to say, our esteemed legislators preferring to do our business behind closed doors and all.  Folks in the know(ish), however, have suggested - not for attribution! - that the main sticking point is the significant differences between the House and Senate plans for dealing with municipal employee benefits.  For a refresher on those differences, click here (House) and here (Senate).  Capsule summary: the House plan would finally start to fill in the massive gap between promised future benefits and anticipated revenues; the Senate plan would throw some wall paper over that hole and hope that nobody leans on the wrong spot.

So where's the Governor in all of this?  Well, last week he was in DC testifying before Congress about national health care reform.  Oh, but before that he stopped in Philadelphia where he did a little fundraising for his federal political action committee (the one set up to support national health care reform).

Fiscal 2011 ends June 30.  Today is June 28, and Governor Patrick is... heading back to Washington, DC, this time to attend the 2011 Bio International Convention, "a gathering of biotech leaders from across the globe."  Now,  no fair minded person would question the crucial importance of our chief executive's attendance at THE preeminent gathering of, um, biotech...  I can't even finish the sentence.  What the H-E-double-hockey-sticks?  We're one of 10 states that can't get its budget act together in time for the start of the new fiscal year, and our Governor is heading off on another junket?  What next?  Comic-Con?

I guess we should feel lucky that at least the Governor's book tour seems to have, um, ended.  And why does that make me think of this bit from Spinal Tap?
Ian Faith: The Boston gig has been cancelled... 
David St. Hubbins: What? 
Ian Faith: Yeah. I wouldn't worry about it though, it's not a big college town.
Another guy who disappears at crunch time
In truth and in fairness, Governor Patrick is not in fact sacrificing his leverage over the ongoing budget negotiations by leaving the Commonwealth at the eleventh hour, because he hasn't any leverage to sacrifice.  Exaggerating, am I?  Consider this: Monday the "Big Three" (Patrick, DeLeo, Murray) held their semi-regular "leadership" meeting.  Afterwards, the Big Two (DeLeo, Murray) met the press, whilst the littler third remained out of sight.  According to the State House News, DeLeo and Murray were asked about the ongoing negotiations, and each answered, basically, that they have placed matters in the hands of their respective budget committee chairs.  This prompted an obvious question, and a telling response:
Murray said Patrick didn't weigh in on the specifics of budget negotiations but did ask about progress.
"He talked to us about when we think we'll be done, and we think we'll be done fairly shortly," Murray said.
Great.  So instead of exercising some leadership in perhaps the most important debate of the year, instead of grabbing the wheel and driving, the Governor is the kid in the back seat asking, "are we there yet?!?"  Hey, at least he's keeping tabs on the schedule.

Fact is, Governor Patrick lost any chance he might have had to be a factor in the budget negotiations back in the Spring, when he pointedly declined to weigh in on what already then was clearly shaping up to be the primary sticking point between the two chambers.  One chamber for serious municipal reform.  The other for milquetoast, paper "reform."

Gosh, wouldn't it be great if we could have a third player in all of this?  Someone vested with, I don't know, "executive" authority?  Maybe somebody elected statewide, with access to staff and resources and a bully pulpit?  Someone who, with just a modicum of effort, might manage to sway public opinion toward one side or the other, and with it enough legislators to make a difference?

Five years in to the Patrick/Murray Administration, I'm not sure Massachusetts even remembers what leadership looks like any more.  But I'm sure Governor Patrick will really make a splash this week at the Bio Convention.


  1. The discussion should no longer be about Deval Patrick. It's about Tim Murray, the presumptive candidate for Gov in 2012.

  2. Thanks Anonymous. I agree wuthyour comment in spirit, but not completely. assuming he is e nominee, Murray will run on the Patrick/Murray record. Frustration with Patrick will rub off on him. This stuff that happens in between elections is important - especially because so few pay attention.


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